Judge dismisses ACLU lawsuit against Manatee, Sarasota counties. Here’s why.

·2 min read

The Second District Court of Appeals has denied 11 lawsuits filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Florida challenging the cash bail system in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

In November, the ACLU filed the 11 petitions on behalf of 11 people being held in Manatee and Sarasota county jails on cash bonds they cannot afford. Failing to give each of them an alternative to a cash bond was tantamount to holding them in pre-trial detention in violation of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the 51-page petition claimed.

Between late December and early January, the appellate court denied all 11 petitions filed by the ACLU and 12th Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office.

“Sheriffs have no authority over bail amounts or procedures. Bail amount is determined by a judge,” a statement from the sheriff’s office said.

The ACLU of Florida is considering whether to pursue the cases in federal courts.

“I think we are at the end of the road in the state courts,” Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, told the Bradenton Herald on Wednesday.

Before making their rulings, the appellate court asked the Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on each of the cases, a common practice.

Merely being unable to afford the bail does not make the bail excessive or unreasonable, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan S. Tannen argued in the written response in one of the cases.

“In addition to a defendant’s financial resources, a trial court must consider a host of other factors in determining whether to release the defendant on bail or other conditions, and if so, what bail or other conditions are appropriate,” the response argued citing the Florida statute that lays out the criminal procedures for bail determination.

The ACLU argued that even if a court may have found a bail amount sufficient to ensure the defendant appears in court and to protect the safety of the community, they “never grappled with whether it was essential.”

“The trial court failed to apply the correct constitutional standard governing a deprivation of pretrial liberty. This case should be remanded to the trial court to make these findings in the first instance “in light of the correct legal standard” governing pretrial detention as noted in Whitfield’s prayer for relief.”

The ACLU Florida initially had filed a class action lawsuit in November on behalf of these 11 defendants. The court dismissed the suit, however, without prejudice to each of those named filing their own petition.

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